Pow! Bam! Zok! An Unsolicited And Sadly Thorough Review Of “Batman ’66” Season Two
Did you miss the recap of season one? Click here, bat fan.
A normal half hour television program in the 1960s would produce around thirty episodes a season. Drunk with success, “Batman’s” second season turned in twice that number, spreading quality and consistency ever so thin. Periodically the show rises to the occasion. Other times, it digs its own sad, swampy grave. Still other times, “Batman” manages to be thoroughly okay.
The only element you can truly rely on is Neil Hamilton, who commits to his character of Commissioner Gordon as if he’s playing Hamlet for both the first and last time. No matter what asinine or childish nonsense is unfolding, Neil makes you believe all of Gotham teeters on the brink and that the Caped Crusaders are our only hope. Neil’s so solid you’ll want his face on a t-shirt.
A few asides before the episode-by-episode breakdown:
I. Season two finds Batman’s ancillary vehicles in regular rotation—the Bat Copter, the Bat Boat, etc. All these vehicles debuted in the theatrical Batman movie the show filmed and released right after the first season (a film meant to sell foreign markets on the greatness of this wacky property). One mode of transport not featured in Batman: The Movie is the Alf Cycle, the bike Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler Alfred pedals around on when he is occasionally called into action. That’s dumber than spit, but who could look the wonderful Alan Napier in his caring eye and even hint at that? He’s such a sweetheart of a man, doing everything he can to help his employer live out a dangerous and elaborate vigilante fantasy with nary a question. Let him have his Alf Cycle.
II. Apparently in the first season Adam West found his Batman cowl to be too tight, so the costume people loosened it. The result is this weird open pocket of fabric under his cheeks, like the cowl’s stretched out from violent tugging. Similarly, the collar of Burt Ward’s yellow cape seems a bit loose in these adventures, allowing the collar of his red vest underneath to poke up the neck. Highly distracting but I suppose it would throw snoops off their trail. Bruce Wayne can’t be Batman; Bruce could afford a better tailor.
III. Every once in a while Bruce Wayne will reference the murder of his parents but we never learn Dick Grayson’s backstory. It’s never even so much as implied that Dick (as we learn in the comics and later films) once belonged to a famous family of traveling acrobats, the rest of whom died during a particularly daring stunt (sometimes written as sabotage at the hands of the Joker or Two-Face). We are to assume here that Dick’s Aunt Harriet didn’t have the means to support the orphaned boy on her own and Bruce, who was at the fatal circus performance, simply invited them to live with him. Maybe if they had given Burt Ward a few dramatic moments to talk about all this he could have avoided the B movie hell that awaited him following this program’s cancellation.
IV. This season is where Batman and Robin really get into taking pills to combat everything. Sorry, Joker, but we swallowed our anti-hypnotism bat pills before you handcuffed us to this giant pair of scissors. Big pharma propaganda has never looked so dashing.
Without any further adieu, allow me to tear apart this classical mess.
1. “Shoot A Crooked Arrow” / 2. “Walk The Straight And Narrow”
Art Carney rides into town as a would-be Robin Hood character called the Archer, because when you think of debonair English folk heroes you think of Ralph Kramden’s neighbor. Maybe that’s the joke. Aiding Art in his rob-from-the-rich-pretend-to-give-to-the-poor hoodwink is model Barbara Nichols (as an equally Brooklynese Maid Marilyn) and Doodles Weaver (wasted in a tiny henchman role). This adventure marks the first (and not the last) time Alfred must don the Bat suit; the old bean doesn’t look too bad in his boss’s duds.
3. “Hot Off The Griddle” / 4. “The Cat And The Fiddle”
This pair of episodes, centered around average larceny by the otherwise brassy and bewitching Catwoman, is loaded with references only true ’60s fossils will understand (Schwab’s Drugstore, anyone?). Hard to believe the Boy Wonder’s assessment of fictional hit record “The Catusi” hasn’t been sampled by a boat load of contemporary punk bands (“Oh boy! I like rock n’ roll music as much as the next red-blooded average American teenager but this stuff is awful!”). James Brolin pops up in the conclusion as truck driver Ralph Staphylococcus. It’s a better moniker than Zubin Zucchini, one of the dismal food-based names we’re beaten senseless with this season.
5. “The Minstrel’s Shakedown” / 6. “Barbecued Batman?”
On paper a villain named the Minstrel who strums a medieval instrument as he taunts Batman about stock fraud sounds torturous but somehow they lend this absurdity proper gravity. There’s great shadow work (darkness lurking almost literally in every corner) and Van Johnson is camp-free in his turn as the titular villain (hey, the guy knows how to pluck a lute menacingly). You can almost envision this jaunt working in the Chris Nolan Bat films. Granted, there’s a lot of Batman talking to guys in suits here, but negotiation is a vital part of his crime-fighting skill set. Did I mention the Phyllis Diller cameo? Surprisingly, she does not appear as herself.
7. “The Spell Of Tut” / 8. “Tut’s Case Is Shut”
In which the potion-based plotting of King Tut teaches us the meaning of words like scarab, apothecary, and Cavia porcellus. A tremendous series moment occurs when Sid Haig, appearing as one of Tut’s henchmen, is given a chance to reply to a question about what lurks behind a mysterious door. “Trolls and ghouls and amulets,” Haig intones a la possessed wizard, head tiled back, eyes a-bug. “Evil spells that will turn your bones to celery stalks!” Unfortunately, we do not get to see Robin transform into celery. We do, however, witness Batman using a public telephone, which today is as antiquated at Tut himself.
9. “The Greatest Mother Of Them All” / 10. “Ma Parker”
These entries mark one of the rare instances where criminals fire real guns at Batman and Robin. You’d think that would happen more often. Alas, only Ma Parker and her gang are smart enough to realize our Caped Crusaders wear nothing bullet proof. History buffs might be annoyed that the villainess played by Shelley Winters perpetuates the myth that her real life counterpart (Arizona Donnie “Ma” Barker) was a deft criminal mastermind. Less stodgy folk will probably have no issue getting down with Parker and her takeover of Gotham State Penitentiary. Go big or go home, you know?
11. “The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes” / 12. “The Clock King Gets Crowned”
Bob Kane may have been able to smudge Batman collaborator Bill Finger out of history for several decades but he couldn’t prevent his former pal from co-writing these two episodes. Shame it had to be Clock King, a malefactor who has forever been a punchline. What’s onscreen here doesn’t help (did the guy really need multi-colored clock faces glued to his black cape?). As the King Walter Slezak does what he can, but if this were baseball he’d languish in the minor leagues. The cannibalistic undertones in the scene where Batman and Robin eat bat burgers are dampened when they order Orangeade to drink. No self respecting creatures of the night would be caught dead sipping juice.
13. “An Egg Grows In Gotham” / 14. “The Yegg Foes In Gotham”
Just when you think this television show from the mid-60s is doing a good job keeping its head above water in terms of social issues they vomit up a broad and offensive Native American character named Chief Screaming Chicken (portrayed, of course, by a white guy named Edward Everett Horton). That’s the only thing marring Vincent Price’s debut as nefarious dandy Egghead. At least the plot recognizes the fact that Gotham really belongs to its indigenous peoples; Egghead maneuvers around city government to gain control of the municipality from the Chief so he may ban Batman and Robin from policing inside its borders. Of course the final battle includes a lot of egg throwing.
15. “The Devil’s Fingers” / 16. “Dead Ringers”
Liberace played some really fantastic piano in his day. If you listen to live recordings, he was also pretty clever with onstage banter. Unfortunately Lib was no actor, and as clumsy as he is playing himself he’s even worse as an evil twin brother. This is one of those sad moments where a merger that seems like a slam dunk bounces coldly off the rim. Too much garish camp and your stew becomes slurry. On the plus side, they give Aunt Harriet more stuff to do; Lib’s evil musician strikes up a dubious romance with Aunty H and they come so close to making out you want to reach for the Bat signal. It’s enough to make Bruce and his youthful ward fake their deaths, again. They’ve done it so many times already but it’s still such a shock!
17. “Hizzoner The Penguin” / 18. “Dizzoner The Penguin”
The Penguin runs for mayor, and Batman decides the only way to stop this waddling ne’ever-do-well is to run for mayor himself. It’s punishing for us until Batman refuses to kiss a baby; this kicks off a Batman backlash and there is nothing quite as satisfying as watching strangers yell at Adam West. Please note: despite her credit as Little Egypt, the belly dancer who cameos at the Penguin’s campaign rally was merely a Little Egypt imitator named Lorraine Shalhoub. The three women usually credited with pioneering the Little Egypt character (enchantress of rich and curious Western audiences in the early 20th Century) all died decades before this show existed. Now Paul Revere and The Raiders, they’re the real deal here—right down to their trademark Revolutionary War regalia.
19. “Green Ice” / 20. “Deep Freeze”
As the frosty villain Mr. Freeze Otto Preminger wears your patience by declaring anything and everything as “wild, WILD!” With each refrain your lobes dull and you angrily curse the concept of catchphrases. Burt Ward sports a mysterious injury on his right arm during these entries; they try to block it with other actors and Robin’s cape, but every so often you catch a glimpse of a large bandage around the appendage. If we’re to believe Burt’s autobio he most likely hurt himself roughly sexing a zealous fan. At any rate, the show runners could have never guessed we’d one day live in a world of high def screen capture and endless reruns. All your mistakes live forever.
21. “The Impractical Joker” / 22. “The Joker’s Provokers”
Somehow the Joker invents time travel, but the rules are vague and the special effects vaguer. Equally painful is the introduction of Alfred’s twin cousin who works for the city. “Batman’s” split screen tech makes “Patty Duke” look like Multiplicity. This is season two’s nadir, veering into bargain basement Saturday morning dreck produced at your local affiliate. Chris Bale should have dropped the nuke on these eps at the end of Dark Knight Rises.
23. “Marsha, Queen Of Diamonds” / 24. “Marsha’s Scheme Of Diamonds”
Gotham’s posh cougar Marsha, Queen Of Diamonds (the refreshing Carolyn Jones) tries to trick Batman into holy matrimony—though she has more in her arsenal than mere feminine charm. You see, Marsha’s eccentric aunt is a bonafide witch who mixes up love potions for her niece in a giant bubbling cauldron. Just when you think this story is going to end in the most ludicrous way possible—Batman and Robin turned into frogs!—something even more ludicrous comes along—Batman and Robin were just pretending to be frogs via ventriloquism! So that’s what Bruce and Dick practice in their down time.
25. “Come Back, Shame” / 26. “It’s How You Play The Game”
The climax of this western-themed yarn features the Dynamic Duo amidst a stampede and it looks like the program actually spent the money to get real bovines. Cowpoke Shame isn’t a very inspired bad guy but Cliff Robertson finds a way to make the grizzled saddlesore work. A major surprise arrives in the form of Werner Klemperer, who cameos as Col. Klink and establishes the fact that “Batman” and “Hogan’s Heroes” take place in the same goddamn universe. Seems like apprehending a Nazi would be bigger potatoes than Shame; Bats doesn’t agree, not even touching upon the Third Reich’s many atrocities in the polite chat he has with Klink. Is Gotham actually in Brazil?
27. “The Penguin’s Nest” / 28. “The Bird’s Last Jest”
If you dislike Stafford Repp’s bumbling Chief O’Hara, this is the adventure for you. In the midst of a forgery plan the Penguin kidnaps O’Hara, locks him in a trunk, and throws him in an electrified swimming pool. As if that isn’t crazy enough, later the feisty bird captures Alfred and attempts to cook him in a pie crust. That would probably be a very drawn out, painful way to die. Naturally, on this series they make it look like the least dangerous situation in the world. God forbid youngsters get the wrong idea about those human sized pie crusts you see at the market.
29. “The Cat’s Meow” / 30. “The Bat’s Kow Tow”
A sloppy Catwoman outing saved as always by the amount of vulnerability Julie Newmar brings to her performance. Our feline mastermind attempts to steal the voices of singing sensations Chad & Jeremy because she somehow thinks it will wreck the British economy. Finally, Batman and Robin have an excuse to visit the British Embassy, and do they ever. Don’t worry, though—they manage to crowbar in a sequence where Chad & Jeremy have tea with Aunt Harriet. Guess the old biddy is cruising the airports looking to pick up foreign twinks. Well, maybe C&J are too tall and masculine to be true twinks. As you can tell, these episodes are very inspiring.
31. “The Puzzles Are Coming” / 32. “The Duo Is Slumming”
Negotiations with Frank Gorshin were rough in season the second; hence, this obvious Riddler script was mutated for the Puzzler, a weird fop whose preoccupations with aviation and Shakespeare seem like more than enough characterization. And yet he insists on teasing authorities with puzzles. We get it, you were a Lit major. Puzzler’s plan is to bilk some billionaire out of his fancy aircraft; Sadly, we do not get the Batman skydiving scene we deserve. Skydiving may not have been invented yet, but gay subtext certainly had, as evidenced in Batman’s firm vocal desire to “cross swords” with Puzzler.
33. “The Sandman Cometh” / 34. “The Catwoman Goeth”
The program goes against type here, casting the emaciated and clean-shaven Michael Rennie as a version of the Sandman (a character I think we collectively agree is a rotund gent with facial hair in the style of Santa Claus). This is another where the crook’s objective is to steal money from a citizen of great wealth; here, it’s a frumpy pasta heiress named J. Pauline Spaghetti. Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon attempts to calm a panicked O’Hara by rattling off weird farm colloquialisms (“Grain by grain, the hen fills her belly!”). Batman takes the subway in the second chapter, but that happens offscreen, so no shots of West awkwardly jostling for the best position in the train.
35. “The Contaminated Cowl” / 36. “The Mad Hatter Runs Afoul”
The Mad Hatter is back and he still wants Batman’s ugly-ass cowl. No one minces quite like David Wayne, especially when he’s posing as a foreign dignitary who uses radiation to turn the Caped Crusader’s hood bright pink. Events take a morbid turn when Mad Hatter convinces all of Gotham that he’s murdered Batman and Robin in cold hat-fueled blood. The Hatter is thwarted atop a water tower as stock footage from V-J Day represents the cheering, relieved citizens of Gotham. Shameless but beautiful.
37. “The Zodiac Crimes” / 38. “The Joker’s Hard Times” / 39. “The Penguin Declines”
This might be the apex of the entire fershluggin’ series. Joker and Penguin combine forces for a rollicking crime spree that follows the twelve astrological signs. Reigning in the outlandishness, the show’s writers provide our crooks with creative set-ups grounded in enough reality to convey Batman’s acute frustration as he struggles to thwart the gruesome twosome (and yet they still work giant man-eating clam into the narrative). Cesar Romero presents his greatest performance as the Clown Prince of Crime, a gleeful beacon of evil who almost comes across as metaphysical. He also rolls off one of the better Dynamic Duo insults, referring to them as “Caped Cabbage-heads.”
40. “That Darn Catwoman” / 41. “Scat! Darn Catwoman”
Catwoman poisons Robin with a drug that makes him horny for crime and her young protégé Leslie Gore. Welcome to more of the fresh hell that is Burt Ward’s uncomfortable interpretation of juvenile delinquent. Adam West isn’t much better when he’s under the influence of the drug—muttering things to “Catsy Baby” while slowly rolling his head around like a bowling ball—but perhaps that’s the point. Gore is delightful as Catwoman’s junior, instantly adding herself to the “why didn’t they ever bring this character back?” list. Guess there’s only room for one sexually-charged tabby in Gotham.
42. “Penguin Is A Girl’s Best Friend” / 43. “Penguin Sets A Trend” / 44. “Penguin’s Disastrous End”
We come so close to seeing a nude Carolyn Jones in these episodes it’s surprising more hasn’t been made of it over the years. People just aren’t buying what Jones is selling outside Morticia Addams, which is sad and wrong. At any rate, Marsha, Queen of Diamonds and Penguin collaborate to make a movie starring the Caped Crusaders. Penguin thinks he can control Batman and Robin if he’s directing them, but these guys only serve Lady Justice. There’s a long stretch where the boys are trapped in suits of armor, which is fun if you’ve ever fantasized about Adam West torturing you in the 14th Century.
45. “Batman’s Anniversary” / 46. “A Riddling Controversy”
Speaking of the Addams Family, here be the notorious engagement where John Astin dons the green question mark jumpsuit to replace a contractually unhappy Frank Gorshin. A goddamn thankless job but Astin proves himself worthy of super reprobate status with this one and only turn as el hombre de adivinanzas. Aiding him are some of the program’s most inventive set pieces, like a fight in an underwater bank vault and a giant birthday cake made of quicksand. Stupid enough to be fun, real enough to seem dangerous. That’s what we’re really after here, right? Believable scenarios for a man and a boy who fight crime adorned in multi-colored silk and spandex?
47. “The Joker’s Last Laugh” / 48. “The Joker’s Epitaph”
The titles here suggest Joker buys the farm; it’s a fake out. Batman’s greatest foe survives this folly that finds him implanting androids as bank tellers while simultaneously tricking Bruce Wayne into making him VP of Gotham National. I don’t remember the exact joke Batman tells the one android to make it malfunction but I cannot agree with Robin’s assertion that it was “super funny.” Batman’s about as funny intentionally as Adam West is unintentionally. By this point they’ve given the Joker his own custom wheels, referred to as the Jokemobile. Like many novelty autos of the era it’s just a modified 1920s jalopy. In terms of cool it may be above the Porter from “My Mother The Car” but it’s definitely below the Monkeemobile.
49. “Catwoman Goes To College” / 50. “Batman Displays His Knowledge”
Our devious Catwoman loves Batman with all her feline heart, but could she ever give up a life of crime to win his love? Batman’s interested in exploring this but worries about Robin’s future. “I’ll have him killed!” the Cat cheerily suggests, bringing of the program’s biggest and most twisted laughs. These episodes introduce Captain Courageous, a police cop who’s new in town and knows nothing of the costumed weirdos who either perpetrate or fight crime. A strange diversion but again, always funny to see anyone giving Batman and Robin the business.
51. “A Piece Of The Action” / 52. “Batman’s Satisfaction”
Wherein Batman and Robin meet rival vigilantes the Green Hornet and Kato. Even in restraint Bruce Lee impresses during the fights; at last, a hero who actually looks like he could defeat an enemy with one or two blows. “Kung Fu is Kung Fu,” Lee shrugs, one of the few lines he can get in between the thick dialogue wicket flowing between his boss, the regulars of the Batman crew, guest villain Colonel Gumm (a boisterous Roger C. Carmel), and Gumm’s put upon lady Pinky Pinkston (Diane McBaine). Alex Rocco pops up as one of Gumm’s henchmen, proving he was never young.
53. “King Tut’s Coup” / 54. “Batman’s Waterloo”
Another stacked tale featuring Victor Buono’s Tut, “Star Trek’s” Grace Lee Whitney as female crony Neila, “77 Sunset Strip’s” Byron Keith as Mayor Linseed, Suzy Knickerbocker playing herself, and bride-against-her-will Lee Meriwether (who of course played Catwoman in the 1966 theatrical version of this show; Julie Newmar was unavailable). Buono begins to careen into a W.C. Fields impression with his characterization of the evil Egyptian king, but to be fair I can’t think of the last time I saw / heard anyone referencing the permanently drunk William Claude of Philadelph. Fields is fading into an obscurity populated by Charo, Wally Gator, and all the cave people who continue to reference them. Holy passage of time.
55. “Black Widow Strikes Again” / 56. “Caught In The Spider’s Den”
Tallulah Bankhead appears in her final role ever as the elegant and elegantly sassy Black Widow. It’s kind of difficult to make out what she’s saying half the time but you get the general idea—she’s into bank heists and wants the Dynamic Duds dead. There’s an unsettling scene toward the end where it appears a police officer is going to shoot Batman at point blank range (because Black Widow has tricked the world into believing Bats has gone bad) but what’s more frightening is the subplot about Aunt Harriet trying to buy a miniskirt. Apparently the sales person told her she doesn’t have the face for it. I’d like to see a seething Dick Grayson confront that evil doer.
57. “Pop Goes The Joker” / 58. “Flop Goes The Joker”
The Joker infiltrates the Gotham art world, holds some aspiring painters for ransom, and we all put up with his quasi-moll, one Baby Jane Towser (Diana Ivarson, whose acting is more blanching than any of the abstracts we see on display). The story culminates in a dumb but metaphorically appropriate bit where the Joker gets trapped going up and down the Bat poles.
59. “Ice Spy” / 60. “The Duo Defy”
Eli Wallach, the third and final Mr. Freeze, a fine heavy even if he insists on using an adorable little seal for most of his dirty work. Poor innocent seal. For some reason Elisha Cook’s Icelandic professor, an unwitting accomplice to Freeze in his quest for planetary domination, has absolutely no accent. An odd creative decision. Even odder: in these final episodes, Commissioner Gordon keeps mentioning his daughter Barbara but we never see her. It almost seems like they wanted to include Barb and her alter ego Batgirl but couldn’t find the right actress. Why else would Gord be yakking about his family? We never hear word one about O’Hara’s private life, and why would we want to? Do any of his kids turn out to be avenging super people?
Fin. I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to make it through this, the Berlin Alexanderplatz of Batman television seasons. And yet I did. What awaits in season three? Batgirl. Shorter narratives. Rudy Vallée. Milton Berle. That episode where the Joker and Batman enter a surfing contest. Marauding Cossacks. It’s gonna get weirder but not necessarily better.
Stay tuned. Same blog time, same blog channel.